Just a few months in, Jose Chesa and Cristina Báez’s Ataula is impressively well-oiled. But to compare it to a machine would be to ignore the very personal touches that make the whole thing here work.
The staff’s professional and knowledgable, but casual, too—instead of being buttoned-up and vested, they wear matching T-shirts—and because Chesa’s line is so efficient, it frees him up to leave the kitchen to stop by your table to check on things.
In sum, Ataula’s family feels like a family, and when you come in, you feel like a very distant cousin they’ve never met but are nonetheless eager to feed.
Of course, you’re coming for the food—the dishes here are based on traditional Spanish recipes Chesa picked up from his father and grandmother made with modern cooking techniques he honed whilst working in kitchens across Barcelona.
But then again, Catalonians come to drink, then stay for the food.
It’s not necessarily how Portlanders do it (we are working on it), but there is one Ataulan drink that’s worth the trip all by itself.
Ataula’s wine and brandy-based Sangria follows a recipe Chesa’s borrowed from his father, but he trumps it by vacuum-sealing and giving a slow, low cook to its medley of its dozen ingredients.
By sous viding the brandy with apples, pears and a variety of spices—Chesa’s cagey about naming them all, and why shouldn’t he be?—every batch is carefully controlled.
But just because it’s consistent doesn’t mean that this Sangria’s not playful—it is: the notes of one ingredient pop out like stray electrons before they’re quickly swallowed up by the flavors of another.
And each glass is finished with freshly pressed citrus, giving that glass a bright fresh pop. And if you’re dine with your sweetheart, it comes in litre bottles, too.
Lots of spots have signature drinks, but this one very well—and maybe very well soon—could become one of Portland’s most signature.
Ataula, 1818 NW 23rd Place, 503.894.8904